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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                     21
a stone upon a slow and heavy transport plane that had
just torn itself off the ground, and found delight in
stitching its motley-coloured, rectangular, corrugated
duralumin body with several long bursts from his
machine-gun. He was so confident that he did not trouble
to see the enemy craft hurtle to the ground. On the other
side of the field another Junkers rose into the air. Alexei
went after it. He attackedóbut was unsuccessful. His
stream of tracer bullets trailed over the slowly rising
enemy plane. He veered round sharply and attacked
again, missed again, overtook his victim again, and this
time sent it down away over the forest by furiously firing
several long bursts into its broad, cigar-shaped body.
After bringing down the Junkers and circling twice in
triumph over the spot where a black column of smoke
was rising out of the heaving, green sea of endless forest,
he turned his plane back to the enemy airfield.
But he did not get there. He saw his three planes
fighting nine "Messers", which had evidently been called
up by the commander of the German airfield to beat off
the attack of the Stormoviks. Gallantly hurling themselves
at the Germans, who outnumbered them three to one, the
airmen tried to keep the enemy away from the
Stormoviks. They drew the enemy further and further
away, as black grouse do, pretending to be wounded and
enticing hunters away from their young.
Alexei was so ashamed that he had allowed himself to
be tempted by easy prey that he could feel his cheeks
burning under his helmet. He chose a target and, clench-
ing his teeth, sped into the fray. The target he had chosen
was a "Messer" which had separated itself somewhat from
the rest and was evidently also looking for prey. Getting
all the speed he possibly could out of his plane, Alexei
hurled himself upon the enemy's flank. He attacked the
German in accordance with all the rules of the art. The
grey body of the enemy craft was distinctly visible in the
weblike cross of his sight when he pressed his trigger,
but the enemy craft slipped by unharmed. Alexei could
not have missed. The target was near and was distinctly
visible in the sight. "Ammunition!" Alexei guessed, and
at once felt a cold shiver run down his spine. He pressed
the trigger-button again to test the guns but failed to feel